'I'm going to fight with them until the end'

'I'm going to fight with them until the end'

After six innings of work on Sunday, the Stephen Strasburg innings count now sits at 156.1 and the expected shutdown range of 160-180 innings is quickly approaching. Neither Strasburg, Mike Rizzo, or Davey Johnson will say exactly when he will be shutdown, but it has been narrowed to his next two starts.

I think two starts. Unless I let him pitch 10 the next one out, which Im not going to. I think his last start will be on the 12th, Johnson said.

Rizzo wasnt quite as specific.

It depends on the same thing its always depended on. When we feel that hes had enough in and around that area of innings, and we take into account all the things weve talked about taking into account, stressful innings, pitches, and that type of thing, then well make that decision and shut him down.

According to Strasburg, he hasnt been talking with management about the subject as much as one might think. He is keeping his approach day-by-day, trying to block everything out. But with the end of his season apparently near, the Nats ace did acknowledge something will have to happen soon.

Im just focused on the next start. Thats all I can really focus on right now. But were going to have to have a sit down and talk here soon, he said.

When asked about sitting down to talk?

Im going to fight with them until the end. Thats all Ive got to say.

It appears what has maybe been delayed by those in D.C. and in the organization, what has been fixated on in the national media, is now finally about to come to its end. It of course isnt an easy decision, and with the competitive nature between the two, it is natural for Strasburg to have his reservations about the move.

Rizzo is confident, however, that two sides will come to an understanding that whatever happens in the future will fall on his shoulders.

I dont think hes going to fight me on it, I think hes going to be unhappy about it, I know hell be unhappy about it. He is an ultimate competitor, but weve taken that out of his hands, he said.

This is a developmental decision and it ultimately falls on the doorstep of the general manager and weve made it. Weve made it five months ago and were going to stick to it.

Rizzo is aware of the national attention the subject has received, but he is firm in his beliefs and has all the information he needs to back it up.

Stephen Strasburg is one of the most popular players in baseball and it is a good conversational piece. It is a debatable subject, but most of the people who have weighed in on this know about ten percent of the information that we know, that weve made our opinion and based it on.

Rizzo was asked if Jordan Zimmermann, a year ahead of Strasburg in the recovery from Tommy John, presents a good example of the plan working. The Nats general manager expanded that notion to include other young arms such as Ross Detwiler and Lucas Giolito, and believes nothing should change that stance.

Just because were in a different position in the standings, were not going to forego my philosophy of player development and keeping pitchers healthy and weve been consistent with it throughout.

Nobody believes the Nationals are as good a team without Strasburg, he is one of the best pitchers in the league and the staffs true ace. But Rizzo is at peace with their talent moving forward this season, with or without the former number one pick.

I think weve got four of the top pitchers in the National League, I think all of them can go out there and win you a game under duress in a playoff atmosphere. I think that theyre ultra-talented and theyre stuff-guys and I think theyre going to be tough to deal with for any team that we play against.

Taking Strasburgs place in the rotation will be John Lannan, a veteran who held a 3.71 ERA last season through 184.2 innings in 2011. You could certainly have worse backup plans than that.

It was part of our plan at the beginning was to be very deep at starting pitcher. It was one of the reasons why we signed Edwin Jackson when people thought we didnt need him, he said.

It was one of the reasons why people thought we were looking to trade John Lannan when, unless we got blown away by a good deal we knew that John Lannan was going to pitch important innings for us sometime this year and the time is about ready for him to get here.

If the Nationals fail to win the World Series, it could be shutting down Strasburg that people point to as the difference. Rizzo knows that, the Nationals know that. But Johnson has won a World Series before and thinks his team has the depth and character to battle through any type of situation.

Weve faced adversity all year long. We didnt have our cleanup hitter, we didnt have our closer. We lost our starting catcher, we lost Jayson Werth for two months, he said.

Gonzalez on recent skid: 'I can’t let it spiral out of control'

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Gonzalez on recent skid: 'I can’t let it spiral out of control'

On numerous occasions throughout Saturday night's disappointing start — four, to be exact — Gio Gonzalez found out first hand just how pesky the St. Louis Cardinals lineup can be. 

"We knew they could hit," manager Dusty Baker said. "It's not that easy to hit with runners in scoring position."

Despite striking out the side in the first inning, Gonzalez had trouble finishing off the Red Birds in the following frame. He had three Cardinal hitters in two-strike, two-out situations, and they responded with a flurry: A Jedd Gyorko walk, an RBI single by Greg Garcia, and an RBI double by Matt Carpenter (which came after an RBI double from pitcher Adam Wainwright) to make it 4-0. And a few innings later, Gio was once again one strike away from escaping before allowing another RBI two-bagger, this time to Randal Grichuk to extend the St. Louis lead to 6-2.  

"That out pitch, we didn't have it today with two strikes," said catcher Jose Lobaton. "We needed that fastball in or that curveball in the dirt. And sometimes he threw some curveballs that really got in the dirt, and they didn't swing.....you're gonna find some good hitters, or good days for the hitters, and it's gonna happen, what happened today." 

Indeed, Gonzalez' inability to put hitters away was the story of his night; five of the six earned runs he allowed came with two outs. The result was his shortest outing of the season at 4 2/3 innings. 

"My biggest [disappointment] right now is how much work I’m giving my bullpen," he said afterward. "I can’t stand it.

"I’m a way better pitcher than what I’m showing out there. And it sucks that [the bullpen] guys are constantly picking up my mess. As a pitcher, I pride myself on being the guy that can go the distance and work his tail off."

Gonzalez has now allowed 13 runs over his last two starts, a troubling trend for someone that to this point was having a bounce-back campaign. In the last two outings alone, he's had his ERA rise from 1.93 to 3.57. 

Of course, two poor starts does not a season make, and Gonzalez by and large has shown that he's an improved pitcher over what he was last year. That said, he'll have reclaim his good form sooner rather than later to quell any fears of a regression to 2015 Gio. 

"Just continue to be strong mentally," Gonzalez said. "Just keep finding a way. Eventually it will tilt over and things will start to go my way again. And I think that’s all it is. I’ve got to be more aggressive, more positive on that mound. I can’t let it spiral out of control." 

Gonzalez struggles for second straight outing as Nats fall to Cardinals

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USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalez struggles for second straight outing as Nats fall to Cardinals

Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 9-4 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday night at Nats Park. 

How it happened: The Cardinals offense didn't waste much time in this one, jumping on Nats starter Gio Gonzalez by building a 4-0 second-inning lead thanks to three straight two-out hits with men on base. Washington briefly got back in the game in the bottom of the frame as Ryan Zimmerman launched a two-run home run to cut the deficit to 4-2. 

However, the tough times continued for Gonzalez. He promptly yielded a solo shot to Matt Holliday in the third, and then in the fifth gave up an RBI double to Randal Grichuk to make it 6-2 St. Louis, ending the lefty starter's night earlier than he or the Nats would have liked.

Washington would get two runs back on solo home runs from Bryce Harper and Zimmerman, but the red-hot Cards lineup was simply too much on this night. Matt Adams came through with a pinch-hit two-run double to pad the lead to 8-4 and essentially put things out of reach. 

What it means: After starting the season series off with four straight against the Cardinals, the Nats have now dropped back-to-back games to St. Louis. At 29-21, Washington is still in a virtual tie for first place in the NL East with the New York Mets. 

Another rough outing for Gio: Well, so much for the idea of Jose Lobaton spurring a rebound start for Gonzalez. Even though he was throwing to his usual catcher this time, Gio struggled for the second straight outing, allowing six earned runs on six hits and four walks over 4 2/3 frames. What doomed him the most Saturday? His inability to finish innings when he was ahead in the count. Though he had multiple opportunities in two-strike, two-out situations to exit a frame unscathed, he instead allowed a series of crippling run-scoring hits. Indeed, five of the six runs Gonzalez yielded against the Cards came with two down, a frustrating stat considering that there were moments where he looked like he was going to settle down. 

Daniel Murphy, record breaker: In only his second regular season month with his new team, Daniel Murphy has already etched his name in the Nats record books. His second-inning single was his 41st hit in May, breaking Denard Span's club mark for hits in a month. Murphy's average on the season is now at an eye-popping .390 through nearly two months. 

Up next: The Nats will look to salvage a series split Sunday afternoon as they send Stephen Strasburg (8-0, 2.79 ERA) to the mound to oppose the Cardinals' Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04). 

Despite hot streak, Anthony Rendon gets the night off versus Cardinals

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Despite hot streak, Anthony Rendon gets the night off versus Cardinals

Though Dusty Baker had already made the call earlier in the week to sit Anthony Rendon for Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, his third baseman's recent torrid stretch at the plate nearly gave the Nats' skipper second thoughts. 

"I hate to give a guy a day off when they're getting hits and starting to look good," Baker said before Saturday's game. 

Still, he stayed true to his word, giving Rendon the day off and tapping Stephen Drew to take over at the hot corner. 

"I told him [earlier] he'd be out Saturday. I said 'Give me all you got until your day off on Saturday,'" the manager said. "And he did." 

Rendon's hot streak has been a much-needed sigh of relief for the offense, as his previous struggles were reaching the point where Nats fans might have wondered if he'd ever reclaim his 2014 form. That guy —the then 24-year-old who finished fifth in National League MVP voting and was once nicknamed "Tony Two-bags" — had been missing for the last season-plus as he battled either injury or inconsistency. 

But since Rendon was dropped to sixth in the batting order, the almost 26-year-old has slowly started to resemble what he was two seasons ago. In the last 10 games, he's raised his average from .237 to .262 thanks to six multi-hit efforts that included four doubles, a home run and a triple. Baker noted that Rendon had been making great contact all along, and part of his breakout is simply getting those hits to drop. 

"He's kinda been our hard-luck guy," Baker said. 

Rendon had played all 49 of Washington's games prior to Saturday, prompting Baker to describe the day off as "much needed." And when he returns, the Nats have to hope he can continue to be a presence in a lineup that desperately needs someone other than Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to produce consistently. 

"He's looking good," Baker said. "He's looking real good."